Agonizomai: 1Cor 14:6-11 - Hammerin' Tongues

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1Cor 14:6-11 - Hammerin' Tongues

6-11 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

Still harping on the need for language to actually communicate meaning to others, and putting tongue-speaking squarely in the category of communication, Paul absolutely insists once more that tongues spoken in the assembly of believers must be spoken only for the purpose of edifying others in a way that they can both receive and understand. Paul could come to the Corinthians speaking in some Swahili dialect and look very spiritual and miraculous and purport to show the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, but what good would that do for the congregation? It would be all very demonstrative and experiential and dramatic but it wouldn’t help anyone. It might do harm. It might get the focus on Paul and how great a Christian he must be to have been given such a showy gift. Where would Christ be in all of that?

Again, let us assume Paul is giving the speakers the benefit of the doubt. He is addressing those who have the genuine gift, but who are misusing it. But there are others who, coming out of pagan society, and being quite used to the idea of ecstatic speech or utterances as a manifestation of pagan spirituality do not actually have the gift at all, but are merely imitating the real thing. They assume that tongues are the same as they had become used to in their unredeemed state and, wishing to appear more spiritual than they really are, simply import the practice into the church. Thus appeared so-called tongues that were not actually any language at all, but merely noise and gibberish concocted by the human mind and emotion as a show, or for self-aggrandizing or self-ingratiating reasons.

Paul is quite clear about tongue-speaking and draws very succinct analogies. The voice is an instrument for communicating information, and information is only useful if the receiver understands what is being said. The Holy Spirit is the communicator and not the giftee. The Spirit’s main purpose is to communicate Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. By "communicate" is meant a whole range of riches, but specifically by making Jesus known through the Word preached and taught. The Holy Spirit, being the God Who is not a God of confusion, but of order, does not waste human effort by having people communicate what cannot be understood. (People may do that, but the Holy Spirit does not.) Christ is not revealed to anyone (speaker or hearer) in gibberish or in uninterpreted language. Does it sound like God when confusion or futility reigns? I trow not - and neither troweth Paul.

Verse 10 tends to confirm the fact that tongues as a gift of the Holy Spirit are always actual languages, as spoken by earth-dwellers - languages which carry existing meaning in every word for those who grew up native to that language. Ergo - no angelic, or baby prayer, or ecstatic utterances are inferred in true Biblical tongue-speaking.


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